Did you ever play Pass The Parcel when you were little?
It was a popular party game in my childhood. I didn't go to many parties through a perfect combination of opportunity and my own preference, but I did go to a small number, and Pass The Parcel featured in each of them.
In case you missed it somehow when you were growing up, the game is that children sit down in a ring, and pass a parcel from one to the other while music plays. Round and round, passing it on, passing it on. Then suddenly the music stops. The child holding the parcel at that moment gets to open the top layer. It's a composite parcel with a wrapped gift at the centre, then layers of further wrappings each hiding a gift. So when the music stops you take off one layer of paper, revealing and receiving one gift. No one ever knows when the music will stop. It happens randomly, under the control of a hidden adult.
Just now my life feels like that game, as though the parcel has been passed round and round and now — suddenly! — the music has stopped.
For a long time I've been working on personal change. This has involved researching, reading, experimenting, accumulating, discarding — then finding the changes I'd set in motion required another (then yet another) cycle of exploration and amendment to adjust to the new circumstances I'd created. Ongoing music, round and round. This has all been to do with journeying into minimalism and simplicity, with implications for relationships, belongings, clothing, health, money, eating habits, how I allocate my time, what I read and watch on TV, how I fit in to the church — so many aspects, all in a condition of flux and change, each new configuration triggering a further phase of the same journey. Round and round; like the Children of Israel walking for forty years round and round an area of desert they could have crossed in half a day in a bus.
And suddenly, for the moment, even though there are situations still very much in process and unresolved, everything has gone disconcertingly and eerily quiet inside me. I've completed a round of what I was doing, for the moment everything's in place just as I wanted it and working as it should, all present and correct and resourced and effective. The music has stopped.
You'd think, would you not, that when such moments come they bring elation and a sense of triumph. Made it! Done it Got it!
But I find it doesn't work like that. My spirit, restless and questing by nature and habit, is thrown into a feeling of intense boredom, a "Now what?" of the soul.
Happily for me, I have a book to write with a deadline falling in mid-January, so I can get on with that for the time being. And no doubt the music will start up again and the game of life will continue, new endeavours to tackle and new puzzles to solve.
But just at this moment it's all gone quiet, as a whole series of interrelated projects have fallen into place. Those things still in process are endings, not beginnings. I have no sense at all of what the new will be, in my own life.
I wonder what will happen next. Managing decline is all well and good as a necessary responsibility, but right up to the last breath there has to be an adventure, surely. Something to fire the imagination and inspire the soul and captivate the heart, and companions to share the vision and the journey. Duty, as a motivation, is a sullen fuel; and while I find routine soothing, it still leaves me wondering, "Is this all there is, and then the end?"